Information Literacy

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Original author: Louise Thomson (2009) Revised by: Arlene Whetter (2012) and Martha Attridge Bufton (2017).


Information literacy (IL), also known as information fluency, is a concept typically defined by library and information professionals as a broad set of competencies required for the finding, retrieving, analyzing and using information[1] from a variety of sources and using a number of tools.

Paul G. Zurkowski, then president of the Information Industry Association, introduced the term in 1974 in his report for the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science. In this report, he identified the need for information “literates,” individuals who were able to apply “information resources to their work.”[2]

Information literacy international logo created by the International Federation of Library Associations

In the four decades since Zurkowski released his report, educators have come to understand the term information literacy as synonymous with effective information seeking behaviour, particularly those library professionals responsible for instruction. The need to teach advanced information literacy skills is driven by exponential increases in the availability and variety of information sources in the digital age.[3]

To ensure that students (and other users) acquire these skills, national library associations in a number of countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom, have developed definitions and learning outcomes related to information literacy.[4] These outcomes are frequently used to frame library instruction programs. In this context, library usage, web and database searching, resource selection and evaluation, as well as ethical usage of information (e.g. proper referencing and source attribution) are components of the information literacy skill set.

In addition, some educators believe that information literacy skills are important for the success of pedagogical strategies such as problem-based learning, enquiry learning, case-based learning, and any self-directed technique. As such, educational technologists who base their work on these pedagogical methods and who employ new technologies and media in their designs should be aware of the information literacy level of their target audience. International organizations, such as the International Federation of Library Association (IFLA) and UNESCO, have developed similar sets of standards.

However, there are library and information science scholars who contest this narrow approach to human information behaviour. In North America, information scholars, most notably Carol M. Kuhlthau, Professor Emerita of Library and Information Science at Rutgers University, have developed theoretically-grounded approaches to information seeking while librarians such as James Elmborg, of the University of Iowa School of Library and Information Science, have called for a more critical approach to human information behaviour. By the early 2000s, scholars such as Kuhlthau were suggesting that IL standards, and more broadly this skills-based approach to human information behaviour, needed to be rethought.[5]

And in 2016, one of the most influential sets of standards, the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education, had been rescinded in favour of a more theoretical IL framework. The goal of this new framework is to support students as creators as well as users of information.


Human information behaviour

Human information behaviour is remarkably diverse and encompasses information creation, seeking, searching, and use. British scholar T.D.Wilson suggests the following terminology for information seeking and use behaviour:

  • Information behaviour is the totality of human behaviour in relation to sources and channels of information, including both active and passive information seeking, and information use.
  • Information seeking is the purposive seeking for information as a consequence of a need to satisfy some goal.
  • Information searching is the ‘micro-level’ of behavior employed by the searcher in interacting with information systems of all kinds.
  • Information use consists of the physical and mental acts involved in incorporating the information found into the person’s existing knowledge base.[6]


Information seeking behaviour

While some information scholars suggest the need for a general model of information behaviour, extensive research has been conducted into information seeking behaviour in a variety of contexts: Everyday information seeking as a reflection of lifestyle ¬information seeking habits of various populations such as preteens; and even information avoidance. [7][8] In the context of education, two on-going research projects are notable.


Information seeking process model

American scholar Carol M. Kuhlthau has developed an influential model for the information seeking process. This model is used extensively in public school settings in North America.

Kuhlthau’s information seeking process model is grounded in constructivist learning theory.[9] Based on her observations of American high school students, Kuhlthau posits that information seeking is a meaning making process that unfolds in six steps and along cognitive, behavioural and affective dimensions.

  • When information seeking is initiated, an individual has vague, unfocused thoughts and feels uncertain.
  • Then, as an individual selects and explores a topic, formulates a research focus, collects evidence before presenting and assesses the results, there are significant shifts in cognitive and affective states.
  • Thoughts become more focused; feelings shift from uncertainty to optimism and then return to uncertainty before the individual ultimately gains greater self-confidence and a feeling of accomplishment.


Project Information Literacy

In the post-secondary context, Project Information Literacy is a national, longitudinal study of the information behaviour of college students “in the digital age.”[10] Led by Professors Alison Head and Michael Eisenberg at the University of Washington iSchool, researchers study the information behaviour of post-secondary students in the context of both academic and everyday information seeking.


Information literacy standards as learning outcomes

Information literacy, at least in the context of library instruction, has become synonymous with information seeking. As such, national library associations in a number of countries have produced information literacy standards or sets of competencies. While educators such as library professionals, may adopt a range of pedagogical approaches, these standards have been used as learning outcomes in a variety of contexts.


North America

The ALA certifies all library schools in both Canada and the United States and is the largest library association in North America. As such, American and Canadian library professionals have historically collaborated in a number of areas, including the development and use of information literacy standards in library instruction.


ACRL's Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education

The American Library Association's Association of College and Research Libraries' (ACRL) Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education[11] are commonly used by college and university libraries in North America and around the world to develop information literacy programs. There are five standards, which are each accompanied by specific performance indicators with multiple examples of relevant outcomes of information literacy competency. Each standard can be achieved at different levels of complexity.

  • Standard One: The information literate student determines the nature and extent of the information needed.
  • Standard Two: The information literate student accesses needed information effectively and efficiently.
  • Standard Three: The information literate student evaluates information and its sources critically and incorporates selected information into his or her knowledge base and value system.
  • Standard Four: The information literate student, individually or as a member of a group, uses information effectively to accomplish a specific purpose.
  • Standard Five: The information literate student understands many of the economic, legal, and social issues surrounding the use of information and accesses and uses information ethically and legally.


United Kingdom

SCONUL's Seven Pillars of Information Literacy

SCONUL's Seven Pillars of Information Literacy

The United Kingdom's Society of College, National and University Libraries (SCONUL) published its competency model called the Seven Pillars of Information Literacy in 1999. They have been widely used in the United Kingdom and around the world.[12] Vast changes in the information landscape prompted a revision in 2011.[13] This new model defines the core competencies and behaviours that are the goals of information literacy development in higher education, with each core competency called a "pillar". The pillars are envisioned as a circle or cycle, rather than a sequence, and individuals can achieve different levels of complexity within each pillar.

The seven pillars are:

  • Identify: Able to identify a personal need for information
  • Scope: Can assess current knowledge and identify gaps
  • Plan: Can construct strategies for locating information and data
  • Gather: Can locate and access the information and data they need
  • Evaluate: Can review the research process and compare and evaluate information and data
  • Manage: Can organize information professionally and ethically
  • Present: Can apply the knowledge gained: presenting the results of their research, synthesizing new and old information and data to create new knowledge and disseminating it in a variety of ways


International standards

International Federation of Library Associations

The Information Literacy Section of the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) is mandated to foster international cooperation in the development of information literacy education in all types of libraries and information institutions.

In 2006, the IL Section published the final draft of its Guidelines on Information Literacy for Lifelong Learning. This document reaffirmed the concept of information literacy as a set of competencies and the role of library professionals in contributing to the development of curricula that support and facilitate the acquisition of such skills by students.

The guidelines are intended to provide a framework for creating and implementing IL programs in public and post-secondary institutions and the overall goal is to foster lifelong learning. These guidelines were developed in collaboration with organizations such as ACRL and SCONUL. As such, many of the core concepts are based upon those articulated in the standards produced by these organizations.


Information literacy as metaliteracy

At the same time that library professionals were developing their information literacy standards, other scholars were recognizing the multiplicity of literacies resulting from changing technological and cultural environments. In the mid 1990s, The New London Group, a collection of scholars from around the world, were addressing issues related to multiliteracies. These researchers defined multiteracies as the constellation of both diverse “communications channels and media” as well as diversity in language and culture.[14]

During the 2000s, library and information scholars have been exploring the concept of metaliteracy—an overarching literacy that encompasses other forms of literacy such as visual and digital literacies.[15] These new forms of literacy highlight the fact that traditionally, information literacy in the context of information seeking in libraries, has been text-based.

Library associations have responded to these redefinitions and expansions of the concept of literacy (and information literacy) with revised or new frameworks.


AASL's Standards for the 21st-Century Learner

The American Library Association's American Association of School Librarians (AASL) replaced its 1998 standards for information literacy competencies with a broader document in 2007 called Standards for the 21st-Century Learner.[16] This documents presents an interesting and innovative view of information literacy that explicitly entwines it with the teaching of other literacies, particularly basic literacy, media literacy and ICT literacy. This more holistic approach to information literacy takes it out of the silo of the library, insisting on collaboration between teachers and librarians to develop the spectrum of skills in primary and secondary students. Indeed, it is increasingly difficult to separate these literacies as students do more self-directed, enquiry based learning, and this broadening of responsibility and range in the teaching of information literacy is a trend in the field.

The four broad AASL standards are:

Learners use skills, resources, and tools to:

  1. Inquire, think critically, and gain knowledge.
  2. Draw conclusions, make informed decisions, apply knowledge to new situations, and create new knowledge.
  3. Share knowledge and participate ethically and productively as members of our democratic society.
  4. Pursue personal and aesthetic growth.

In the strategy document, each of the four standards is accompanied by a detailed list of relevant skills, dispositions, responsibilities and self-assessment strategies.

Information literacy can be mainstreamed into primary education

The standards were developed on the basis of this set of "common beliefs" or underlying assumptions:

  • Reading is a window on the world.
  • Inquiry provides a framework for learning.
  • Ethical behaviour in the use of information must be taught.
  • Technology skills are crucial for future employment needs.
  • Equitable access is a key component for education.
  • The definition of information literacy has become more complex as resources and technologies have changed.
  • The continuing expansion of information demands that all individuals acquire the thinking skills that will enable them to learn on their own.
  • Learning has a social context.
  • School libraries are essential to the development of learning skills.

Teachers, librarians, and educational technologists will much more helpful information and links to publications on the AASL Guidelines & Standards webpage on how to implement the AASL learning standards.[17]


UNESCO's Media and Information Literacy Skills Indicators

MIL Curriculum for Teachers

UNESCO is developing a joint set of indicators for media literacy and information literacy (MIL), projected to be finalized in 2013. This initiative has subsumed earlier efforts to create a set of indicators for information literacy only, and is part of the organization’s new strategy to treat information literacy and media literacy as "a combined set of competencies (knowledge, skills and attitude) necessary for citizens living in the 21st Century."[18] Media literacy is usually seen as a subset of information literacy, however, as new information and communication technologies proliferate and people receive messages from an ever increasing range of sources, awareness of the need for media literacy education has increased.

Although the MIL indicators are not yet complete, UNESCO has recently published a MIL Curriculum for Teachers.[19] UNESCO explains its initial focus on teachers as "a key strategy to achieving a multiplier effect: from information-literate teachers to their students and eventually to society at large."[20] The MIL Curriculum for Teachers includes a set of seven core competencies for teachers. As teachers master these competencies, they will pass them on to their students.

The seven MIL competencies for teachers are:

  • MIL Competency 1 - Understanding the role of media and information in democracy
The MIL teacher will begin to become familiar with the functions of media and other information providers and understand their importance to citizenship and informed decision-making.
  • MIL Competency 2 - Understanding media content and its uses
The MIL teacher will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the ways people use media in their personal and public lives, the relationships among citizens and media content, as well as the use of media for a variety of purposes.
  • MIL Competency 3 - Accessing information effectively and efficiently
The MIL teacher will be able to determine the type of information needed for a particular task and access the information in an effective and efficient manner.
  • MIL Competency 4 - Critically evaluating information and information sources
The MIL teacher will be able to critically evaluate information and its sources and to incorporate selected information for problem-solving and analysis of ideas.
  • MIL Competency 5 - Applying new and traditional media formats
The MIL teacher will be able to understand the uses of digital technology, communication tools and networks for information gathering and decision-making.
  • MIL Competency 6 - Situating the socio-cultural context of media content
The MIL teacher will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding that media content is produced within social and cultural contexts.
  • MIL Competency 7 - Promoting MIL among students and managing required changes
The MIL teacher will be able to use knowledge and skills acquired through his/her MIL training to promote media and information literacy among students and manage related changes in the school environment.


ACRL Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education (2016)

Canadian and American academic librarians have debated the validity of the ACRL information literacy competencies. Since the mid 1990s, some professionals have questioned idea that one set of standards is appropriate for all learners and in the mid 2000s, librarians using critical theory to inform their teaching and research praxis began to voice similar concerns. Those in the “crit lib” movement argued that, instead of training students to acquire skills, librarians should challenge students to think critically about the social construction of information and its impact on access to information.[21]

In 2011, members of an ACRL task force began a cyclical review of the standards. In 2014, after extensive discussion and study, the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education was introduced. Informed by the threshold concepts approach to higher order learning, the framework features a “more complex set of core ideas” than the standards. The authors of the framework argue that, by learning these foundational ideas, students will be better prepared to navigate an increasingly complex information “ecosystem.”[22] The framework would “take librarians to the heart of the student learning in the classroom.” On June 25, 2016, the ACRL president announced that the board had voted to formally rescind the Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education.[23] This decision is not necessarily supported by all ACRL members.[24]

The framework defines information literacy as “The set of integrated abilities encompassing the reflective discovery of information, the understanding of how information is produced and valued, and the use of information in creating new knowledge and participating ethically in communities of learning.” It consists of six key or threshold concepts, each with a set of knowledge practices (learning outcomes) and dispositions (learning objectives):


  • Authority is constructed and contextual
Information resources reflect their creators’ expertise and credibility, and are evaluated based on the information need and the context in which the information will be used. Authority is constructed in that various communities may recognize different types of authority. It is contextual in that the information need may help to determine the level of authority required.
  • Information creation as a process
Information in any format is produced to convey a message and is shared via a selected delivery method. The iterative processes of researching, creating, revising, and disseminating information vary, and the resulting product reflects these differences.
  • Information has value
Information possesses several dimensions of value, including as a commodity, as a means of education, as a means to influence, and as a means of negotiating and understanding the world. Legal and socioeconomic interests influence information production and dissemination
  • Research as inquiry
Research is iterative and depends upon asking increasingly complex or new questions whose answers in turn develop additional questions or lines of inquiry in any field.
  • Scholarship as conversation
Communities of scholars, researchers, or professionals engage in sustained discourse with new insights and discoveries occurring over time as a result of varied perspectives and interpretations.
  • Searching as strategic exploration
Searching for information is often nonlinear and iterative, requiring the evaluation of a range of information sources and the mental flexibility to pursue alternate avenues as new understanding develops.


The framework is explicitly informed by the work of Meyer and Land, who propose that each discipline contains foundational ideas that, once understood, transform the learner and lead to the acquisition of expertise in the field. In addition, the idea of metaliteracy is embedded in the framework, i.e., “information literacy is an overarching set of abilities” needed by students to consume and create information as well as work collaboratively. [25] The framework is not prescriptive but rather provides library educators with an overall approach to teaching information literacy that can be tailored to individual learning environments.


Pedagogical collaborations

Information literacy (IL) instruction has traditionally taken place in libraries (particularly school and academic), with librarians as teachers and facilitators. Traditionally known as "bibliographic instruction" or "library usage instruction", librarians would teach students how to find things in the library and the principles of good research. However, as the research environment changed with the advent of digital and web-based technologies, and as teaching has moved from being teacher-centred to more learner-centred, librarians now see bibliographic instruction as a broader set of skills encompassed by the term information literacy.

Since the 1980s, the profile and importance of information literacy has increased dramatically for librarians, with a proliferation of tools and publications to guide instruction. Information literacy instruction seems poised to evolve yet again, as the multiliteracies concept gains strength in education circles. Teachers (of all kinds), who become cognizant of the various types of abilities or "literacies" needed to respond to global change, may incorporate information literacy into their pedagogical praxis.

Collaboration between teachers, teacher-librarians and librarians could mainstream information literacy skills with active learning practices in the classroom.

  • The American Association of School Librarians' Standards for the 21st-Century Learner[26] and its related implementation guides are excellent frameworks for school-based information literacy instruction that involves both teachers and librarians.
  • UNECSO's Media and Information Literacy Curriculum for Teachers,[27] provides a set of fifteen modules, complete with topics, objectives, activities. It can be adapted to any level or context, and is a remarkable reference source ideas for teachers and librarians.
  • The ACRL Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education and guidelines Characteristics of Programs of Information Literacy that Illustrate Best Practices.[28]Two of the ten topics in the guidelines are "Collaboration" and "Outreach," since information literacy instruction is a shared responsibility.
Not just about finding books anymore

Information literacy instruction has traditionally taken place in libraries, with librarians as teachers and facilitators. Known as "bibliographic instruction" or "library usage instruction", librarians would teach students how to find things in the library and the principles of good research. As the research environment changed with the advent of digital and Internet technologies, and as teaching has moved from being teacher-centred to more learner-centred, librarians now see bibliographic instruction as a broader set of skills encompassed by the term information literacy. Since the 1980s, the profile and importance of information literacy has increased dramatically[29], with a proliferation of tools and publications to guide instruction.

Information literacy instruction seems poised to evolve yet again, as the multiliteracies concept gains strength in education circles. As teachers become cognizant of the various types of abilities or "literacies" that need to be developed in response to global changes, information literacy is one of their number. Collaboration between teachers and librarians is necessary to mainstream information literacy skills with active learning practices in the classroom.

  • The American Association of School Librarians' [30] and its related implementation guides are excellent frameworks for school-based information literacy instruction that involves both teachers and librarians.
  • UNECSO's Media and Information Literacy Curriculum for Teachers[31] provides a set of fifteen modules, complete with topics, objectives, activities. It can be adapted to any level or context, and is a remarkable reference source ideas for teachers and librarians.
  • The Association of College and Research Libraries has published a guideline called Characteristics of Programs of Information Literacy that Illustrate Best Practices.[32] Two of the ten topics are "Collaboration" and "Outreach", since information literacy instruction is a shared responsibility.


Information literacy and lifelong learning

An information literate individual is one who is equipped with the skills for lifelong learning. In fact, information literacy is often described as "learning how to learn."[33] Like lifelong learning, it can be self-directed self-empowering and self-actuating.[34]

The two concepts are often linked together in policy documents, such as the ACRL framework, which attest that information literacy is a basic human right necessary for participatory citizenship in the information society and an important weapon in the arsenal to combat social inequality of the digital divide.[35][36] People with the skills to access and evaluate information about their health, the environment, the local economy, and their children's education are empowered to make critical decisions about their lives.[37]

Information literacy is a set of skills that can be learned. These skills include familiarity with information and communication technologies. Technology plays a huge role in improving the accessibility of information, with mobile communications and internet access bringing unprecedented flows of information to all corners of the world. [38]

Educational technologists have a role to play to ensure that in the projects they work on, where possible, information is unrestricted and available (open access, free, Creative Commons licenses), accessible (low-bandwidth versions, mobile versions), presented intuitively and in a pedagogically-sound manner, and that sources and intentions of the information are made clear so that people can judge the relevancy of the information to their own situations.


Stop Motion Artifacts

This video is a visual representation of some of the ideas surrounding information literacy.

This video is a visual representation of a threshold concept.

Notes

References:
  1. Association of Research and College Libraries, 2000
  2. Zurkowskis, 1974.
  3. UNESCO Information for All Program, 2007.
  4. Bradley, 2013.
  5. Kuhlthau, 2013.
  6. Wilson, 2000.
  7. Godbold, 2006
  8. Savolainen, 1995; Meyers, Fisher, Marcoux, 2009; Nayan, Case & Edwards, 2011.
  9. Kuhlthau, Maniotes, & Caspari, 2007.
  10. Project Information Literacy, 2016.
  11. Association of College & Research Libraries, 2000.
  12. Society of College, National & University Libraries, 2012.
  13. Society of College, National & University Libraries, 2011.
  14. The New London Group, 1996.
  15. Mackey & Jacobsen, 2011.
  16. American Association of School Librarians, 2007.
  17. American Association of School Librarians, 2012.
  18. UNESCO, 2011.
  19. UNESCO, 2011
  20. UNESCO, 2011
  21. Elmborg, 2006.
  22. ACRL, 2014.
  23. ACRL, 2016
  24. Bombaro, Harris, & Odess-Harnish, 2016.
  25. Meyer, Land, & Baillie, 2010
  26. American Association of School Librarians, 2007
  27. UNESCO, 2011.
  28. ACRL, 2014.
  29. Pinto et al, 2010, p. 17.
  30. American Association of School Librarians
  31. UNESCO, 2011
  32. Association of College & Research Libraries, 2012.
  33. Wilson et al, 2011.
  34. Pinto et al, 2010, p. 17.
  35. Pinto et al, 2010, p. 17.
  36. Association of College & Research Libraries, 2012.
  37. Lau, 2006.
  38. UNESCO, 2012.


References

External Links

Competencies

Instruction

Online citation tools

  • CiteULike - Free tool for creating bibliographies
  • Mendeley - Free bibliographic management system
  • Zotero - Free, open source Firefox bibliographic management system